The title says it all in “Love & Rage,” in which the tragic, turn-of-the-century affair between an independent, prosperous Englishwoman and the mysterious, scruffy Irishman who works for her ignites a violent passion. Irish vet Cathal Black, whose pivotal 1984 work “Pigs” was banned in Dublin for a decade, has made another fiercely dark pic. Though abrupt changes in tone and logic in the late reels rep a challenge for even the most determined auds, the sparks between the two leads and the roughhewn milieu could work for those who like their romances governed more by emotion than logic.
Based on a true story, pic posits what went on behind closed doors to cause James Lynchehaun (Daniel Craig) to savagely beat his employer, Agnes MacDonnell (Greta Scacchi), with whom he had become intimate after accepting an important job on her estate. Escaping from prison and fleeing to America, Lynchehaun was received as a hero, and the U.S. Supreme Court, interpreting the act as politically motivated, refused to extradite him.
Events focus on the arc of their relationship, presenting MacDonnell as a distant but earthy free spirit and Lynchehaun as a determined and mysterious man. He craftily seeks an opportunity to ingratiate himself by being in the right place at the right time when he uncovers deceit on the part of the local land agent.
So far, so good. But since Black is clearly more interested in their unsteady emotional bond, the fact that Lynchehaun often went around in disguise is made to play a large part in their sexual games. It is at this point that the motivations of the pair become murky, as Lynchehaun impersonates a minister — to MacDonnell’s uncontained glee — yet she allows herself to be terrorized by him when they stay in a posh hotel.
Auds will inevitably question why such a strong, practical woman would put up with such boorish, borderline crazy behavior and what the slick but mysterious swindler gains from the affair. The movie provides few answers. Still, once the role-playing is over, the showdown packs an emotional punch, bested only by the climactic confrontation between the horribly disfigured Agnes and the raging Lynchehaun.
Perfs remain doggedly committed to the material, with vet Scacchi wisely understanding that the story’s tension lies in the sublimation of her character’s carnality to Craig’s unfathomable impulses. Handsome pic was shot in the house where it all happened, on the isle of Achill, off the western coast of Ireland. Locations on the Isle of Man double convincingly for parts of the Irish mainland.